This extract is taken from the book written by Hugh Aldersey-Williams entitled Periodic Tales, The Curious Lives of the Elements, published by Penguin Viking. Within the book Aldersey-Williams explores and tours through the elements, unlocking their astonishing secrets and colourful pasts, Periodic Tales will take you on a voyage of wonder and discovery, excitement, and novelty, beauty and truth. Along the way you’ll find that their stories are out stories, and their lives are inextricable from our own.
Craftspeople today, however, are as likely to work the metal (silver) against expectation as to stay within the boundaries of tradition.Silver is an especially tempting material for polemical or satirical treatment because it has for so long been identified with the upper classes. In 2008, I happened across an exhibition at London’s Contemporary Applied Arts gallery called ‘Tea’s Up’, a riotous display of handmade tableware that ripped apart the complacent niceties of the posh English tea party. China was broken and wrongly reassembled, silver spoons were reduced to crumbling wisps like archaeological fragments, cups and saucers were rendered as useless wire frame outlines. One set of pieces was titled with ironic chutzpah after battle cries from the class war- “Oi Polloi”, “Queenie”, and so on. Others were named with memorable vulgarity after states induced by stronger drink than tea. A wobbly-legged silver jug called “Trollied” – a colloquialism for being drunk – sticks in the mind. The author of these works, David Clarke, clearly struggles with the hypocritical virtue that hovers around silver. “it’s what i react to,” he tells me. “At times, i get totally irritated by its almost religious associations. I respond in a devilish manner to corrupt the purity.’ Trollied” turns out to be a relatively mild exercise. In other works, Clarke bakes silver with brine or mixes it with lead, which eats into it like a cancer. The resulting work is chemically alive, changing in response to the atmosphere. In the summer, the salt causes copper from the solder to bloom green, while in the winter the piece reverts to a grey.’it sets up a dilemma. What do you do: save the silver or enjoy the moment? Silversmithing is such an entrenched tradition. It is ripe to feast from. It is important for the future of silver that it has this chance. The discipline dies if it stays self congratulatory.’
This project of subversion demands an exploration of silver’s black ‘other’, and Clarke duly plans to turn his attention to tarnish-‘not the pure side of silver, but the dirty side!’
ISBN 9 780670918119.
Available from; http://www.penguin.co.uk